Proponents of the proposed new Lookout Mountain school, the Lula Lake Academy Academy, held a "pre-preregistration" signup on Saturday to gauge local interest and will hold a second signup tomorrow, Thursday, Sept. 22, at the Family Agricultural Fair in the Dade Ag Building in front of Dade Middle School. Students interested in attending the academy--which intends to open with grades six through eight -- and their parents are invited to speak with academy representatives at the booth they will set up at the fair.
Lula Lake Academy had applied to the Georgia State Charter School Commission (SCSC) for accreditation as a public charter school, which would not charge tuition but would be funded by state dollars. In August, the school's petition was denied for the second straight year, with recommendations on how to further alter its proposed curriculum to win the state's blessings. This time, school organizers have opted to go another route to finance their academy.
"We had to go down in July and talk about the changes they had told us to work on," said a member of Lula Lake Academy's board of directors. "Where the state wants us to go and our vision did not mesh. We're just not meeting in the middle,"
Instead, said the board member, the academy will continue its struggle to be born pursuing the "LCSS" -- low-cost self-sustaining -- private school model, in which tuition would be charged but on a sliding scale according to family income. "Let's say you're at poverty level," said the board member. "Your kid is is going to attend school for free."
Debbie Tringale (right), Lula Lake Acacemy's prospective headmistress who has supervised its birth pains thusfar, and who has been the school's public face, was out of town this week, but the aforementioned board member updated The Dade Planet in her place on condition of anonymity. The board of directors, said this member, is currently a five-person body comprised of teachers and community leaders in the Lookout Mountain area.
The academy's vision, explained the board member, is to be a "place-based," hands-on kind of school, providing the usual academics and career-path instruction but also focusing on the environment and students' place in it, how it affects them and how they can affect it.
"In the model we're using, every kid in the classroom has a door that goes outside," said the board member. "The kids are going to take what they're learning and actually apply it. If the kids are in a math class and they're learning angles, they're going to go outside and build a fence."
The school plans to utilize a partnership with the Lula Lake Land Trust to provide an enriched outdoor element to its curriculum.
The board member said academy organizers have received solid support from area parents dissastified with status-quo schools. "Parents are removing their kids to private schools, and we have a huge home-schooled population," said the member. "Kids are traveling tremendous distances on buses to attend schools they're not happy with."
Later, the member added: "And there's a lot of bullying going on on the buses."
Lula Lake Academy plans to open as a middle school, said the board member, then add one higher grade a year until it becomes a full-fledged high school as well. That's because, the member explained, that's where organizers have sensed the need from parental feedback.
"The elementary schools are loved," said the board member. Davis, Dade Elementary, Fairyland -- parents are happy with all of them, said the member. The problem comes when kids go into middle and high schools. "They [parents] don't like the way that transition is happening," said the member.
Now the academy faces the challenge of how to come up with not only the money for a physical school -- organizers have found a site near the Dade-Chattooga border they find perfect -- but the $780,000 they estimate it will take to run it annually. "When you leave the public sector and enter the private sector, funding changes," said the board member.
Under the charter school model Lula Lake Academy initially pursued, the money the state sets aside to educate each student follows that student, so that in this case rather than bestowing it on, say, Dade Middle School, the state would give it to the fledgling academy instead. In a private school, that state money is generally made up for by tuition. With Lula Lake Academy planning to charge low-income students zilch, how would the funding gap be filled?
Through a private family foundation in Utah whose representative the academy is currently in negotiation with, said the board member, and who the board would rather not name yet. "He's still talking with his investors," said the member.
That's what these "pre-preregistrations" are about, explained the board member. Organizers have to prove to their prospective" angel" they have adequate students eager to sign up. "It's a numbers game," said the member.
The board member clarified that the foundation -- as well as the school itself -- had no religious affiliation. "There are no strings attached," said the member.
The board member said the signup event on Saturday had reaped a pretty good turnout and that the academy already had 60 to 70 interested students. The goal, said the member is at least 120 or, ideally, 150 to start the school with -- two classes of 25 kids apiece for each of the three grades.
Also ideally, Lula Lake Academy still hopes to open for the 2017-'18 school year, in temporary portable classrooms at first as construction on the school begins.
Readers interested in the proposed school may go to its website, nextgenerationschool.org. A sliding-scale chart for tuition is provided there at nextgenerationschool.org/budget.html.